I was 5 years old when World War II ended. My sister Rosemarie was about 8 months old. I had a small backpack and the clothes I was wearing. Rosi was in a small buggy, Mother also had a backpack. In the town square, the whole German population was herded together and marched off to Frankfurt on the Oder River, about 40 km from Hohentannen. We arrived there in the evening. By then it must been in the tens of thousands driven out of our homes.
Russian soldiers and tanks were on both side of the column. No food or water was given to us, except what we found on the way. The next day, we crossed the Oder. Later we found out that we were on the way to Berlin, about 250 km away. On the third day of marching, Mother had no food for us children. I still remember this vividly, Russians were milking cows in the fields. Mother and I went over to them and asked for some milk for Rosi - she was told to go and ask Hitler for food, and take that German bastard with you.
On that evening, we came to a train station where a freight train was standing. We were herded into the railroad cars like cattle. At that time, we did not know where we were going. The train was on the move all night till about noon the next day. Then the doors where opened. It was refreshing to breathe fresh air.
Several big tents were at the train station. In the tents were kitchens, and for the first time we received sandwiches and water.
As I found out, we were in Berlin at the zoo station. Close by there were other large tents, where we were processed. I did not see any uniforms, just civilians, which I could not understand. We were divided into 3 groups, 1 for the American Sector, 1 for the British Sector and 1 for the French Sector. We were lucky to be assigned to the American Sector.
Mother had friends living in Berlin. Somehow we ended up there that same day. It was an older couple, Their names were Mr. and Mrs. Kaiser. They were living in Berlin Spandau, Willhelmstrasse 176, in a small 2-bedroom apartment. They shared one with us. Looking out of the window, there was a large open area, where old war equipment like tanks and trucks were stored. As a kid, I had a field day playing there.
A few days later, I went outside to play. Sometime during that morning a column of soldiers came marching by. I was standing on the sidewalk. With my ragged clothes, I must have looked pitiful. A black soldier separated from the column and talked to me. I had never seen a black man before, and I must have been frightened. He talked to me in a language I could not understand. His voice was low, but soothing. He had some chocolate which he gave me. This was a tall man. He lifted me up, took me in his arms and went back into the column. Mother was panicky, but he told her, “do not worry I bring him back” (in broken German), A short time later we arrived at his camp.
He went to “wash up.” While there he talked to another soldier who took me in another room which had several bathtubs. He made one for me, gave me a bath and cut my hair. After a while the black soldier came back with an armful of clothes which were for me. New shoes, new pants, new underwear, new jacket and shirt. After I got dressed he took me to the mess hall. There he fed me white bread with butter and liver sausage, and hot cocoa. He then introduced himself to me. His name was John. After I was done, He gave me a flag on a stick; the flag had stripes and stars on it. At that time I did not know what that was. Then he got his backpack and put me on his shoulder and walked me back home. When we arrived, he brought me to the apartment. My mother opened the door and he told her: Here is your son, and here are his old cloths. Then he took his backpack off his back and gave it to my mother: That is for you and your children. Then he said "Auf Wiedersehen" and left,
The backpack was full of food, bread, coffee and dry milk, butter, cheese, sausages and potatoes, enough for at least a month.
Just a week before, I was a German bastard to the Russian soldier. And here an American soldier took the son of a Nazi in his arms and fed him. But this experience shaped my life. When I brought the bread home, I was told that they were American soldiers, and the language was English. I told my mother that day that one of these days I want to go to the land called America.
As of today, I cannot tell the story without getting very emotional. The American camp was about 1 mile away from where we were living. I went there often to find John again. I met him several times, and always got some food.
Berlin was a city of several million people, besides several million refugees. The hunt for food was a daily undertaking. I remember Mother, Rosi in her buggy and I looking for berries on the roadside. An American truck full of potatoes came down the road. As it passed us, soldiers threw potatoes out of the rear. Mother was not fast enough, others were faster. Somehow the truck turned around and stopped by my mother. The black soldier came to my mother, it was my friend from the camp.
He filled the buggy with potatoes, came over to me and gave me a hug and said "auf wiedersehen."
The next day, I went to the camp to see him, and was told he was shipped out to go home in the morning.
I did not have a chance to say thank you. Thank you to all American soldiers, You were great and made it possible that I and my family could live the American Dream.
In February 1968 I came as an immigrant to Chicago. 3 months later my wife and my girls came to the USA also. My proudest day was Memorial Day 1974, when we become citizens of the United States of America.
Thank you, God bless you, and God bless America.